January 4, 2022

New publication: winter's influence on wood bison

New publication: winter's influence on wood bison

Determining the influence of snow and temperature on the movement rates of wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) - Aidan H.C. Sheppard, Lee J. Hecker, Mark A. Edwards, & Scott E. Nielsen.

In February of 2019, I was searching for a field technician to assist with my fieldwork the following spring and summer studying the impact of nutrition on the habitat selection of wood bison. I hired a former student from my Introduction to GIS lab who had a passion for ecological research, back-country experience, and an unmatched enthusias, Aidan Sheppard. We wrote an Undergraduate Student Resaerch grant which was accepted by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) so that Aidan could conduct his own research during the field season. We had designed a project using time-lapse cameras to record the phenology of plants foraged by bison to identify at which phenophase bison were consuming different plants. This project did not pan out and we hit the drawing board again. After running preliminary analyses on a few alternative research projects we decided to focus on the influence of winter conditions (snow depth and temperature) on movement rates of the wood bison.

It has been established that ungulate movement during the winter is influenced negatively by snow depth (Richard et al. 2014). We sought to expand the knowledge of how climatic conditions during winter influence ungulate movements by including temperature and duration of winter in addition to snow depth. We were able to show that bison movement decreased over the first 75 days of winter and then dramatically increased during the final 14 days. Additionally, we found that cumulative, not daily, snow depth had a significant negative impact on bison movements. Lastly, we reported a rapid increase in bison movement rates when temperatures were above -6.4 degress Celcius. This study uniquely quantified the direction and magnitude of the impact of various climatic characteristics of winter on wood bison movement rates.

It was a priviledge to watch the first undergraduate I supervised be persistent, take the reins, and publish authentic, influentual ecological research. This wonderkind will likely be interviewing me for a job in the coming years.

Suggested Citation: Sheppard, A.H.C., L.J. Hecker, M.A. Edwards, & S.E. Nielsen. 2021. Determining the influence of snow and temperature on the movement rates of wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 99(6):489-496.

Literature cited:

Richard, J.H., J. Wilmshurst, and S.D. Côté. 2014. The effect of snow on space use of an apline ungulate:recently fallen snow tells more than cumulative snow depth. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 92(12):1067-1074.